Ayaka Paul took a gap year to travel the world after high school before attending Colorado State University that changed her perspective on the environment and influenced her to pursue a career in conservation.
Paul, who will graduate with a double major in biological sciences and conservation biology from the Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology department in the Warner College of Natural Resources on May 14, traveled to Thailand, India, Europe and New Zealand experiencing the cultures, participating in citizen science opportunities and volunteering at animal sanctuaries.
She said her travels made her self-reflect and gave her an opportunity to see how environmental impacts affected people across the world.
“It just really made me recognize and appreciate my own privilege,” Paul said. “While travelling, I saw how environmental impacts affect people, especially people who live in poverty.”
“That was a connection I made in terms of what I wanted to do in my life. Not only do I want to do conservation work for the planet, but it’s also important for people.”
But Paul was no stranger to other cultures and places having grown up as a “third-culture kid.” She was born in Singapore and moved to Indonesia at age seven. Two years later, her family moved to Malaysia and lived there until she graduated high school.
Paul’s parents also hail from two cultures—her father from Colorado and her mother from Japan. It was her father’s Colorado connection that piqued her interest in CSU.
In her time at the University, Paul has led an accomplished student life. She served in leadership roles as a WCNR associate senator in Associated Students of CSU, as secretary of Warner College Council and as secretary of the Society of Women in Environmental Professions.
She also took on academic opportunities, working in the Crab Lab as an undergraduate research assistant under mentor Mihika Kozma. The experience spurred her senior thesis investigating the molt cycle of crabs, which she presented on at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology conference.
Paul, who was recently the recipient of the FWCB Conservation Biology Outstanding Senior at the college’s recent all-college awards, also took advantage of an internship opportunity at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, which resulted in her work being published in the New Phytologist journal.
In reflecting on her highly successful student career, Paul’s notes an “innate” love for animals and the environment that has driven her. While she sometimes felt science wasn’t her strong suit, she persevered. “I’m not the best at science, but I know I want to contribute and give back to nature, wildlife, and people, so this is the work I’m choosing to do.”
In her own words: Q&A with Ayaka Paul
Q: What are your plans after graduating?
A: After graduation, I’m planning on taking a gap year before applying for graduate school. I’m going to move to Japan and try and volunteer or take some online courses that would be helpful for me in my future career.
Q: What is your dream job?
A: I think right now, my dream job would be to become a marine scientist that can integrate research and climate change. This comes from my background in diving. I have been on over 60 dives. I want to make an impact on people, animals and the ecosystem with my work in the future, and I’d like to be able to contribute to the wave of understanding so that we can do better with conservation and management. I’d also like to make a difference for marginalized communities that live in areas that will be more impacted by climate change.
Q: What has been your favorite memory at Warner College?
A: Honestly, when I think of Warner, I think community. Every time I come into the building, being involved in clubs and taking classes in Warner, I see these faces that I know and recognize, and we’re able to kind of nerd out and talk about nature and whatever we’re interested in. It’s a real community.
Q: What will you miss most about CSU?
A: It’s got to be the people. I’ll miss the friendships I’ve cultivated, the professors, and my advisor, Ann Randall, who really supports me. Everyone has made the experience so great, and it’s tied me into so many amazing opportunities that I’ve been able to explore in my time here.
Q: Do you have any advice for incoming freshman?
A: I’d say one half would be just like take a deep breath. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself throughout your experience. Also, be unafraid to send an email to someone you’ve literally never met, and I mean professors or possible mentors because networking is so important. People are more than willing to meet with you and talk about opportunities than you think. If you’re able to do that, you can open up a lot of opportunities for yourself.